The Patriots opted not to use their franchise tag for the 2013 season. The NFL deadline to designate a franchise player for the coming season was 4 p.m. Monday.
But New England was not alone: only eight teams opted to tag a player, a far cry from the record 21 who used it last year.
It is the first time since 2008 that the team has not used the tag.
There were three players who were candidates for the Patriots’ tag: WR Wes Welker, CB Aqib Talib and OT Sebastian Vollmer. But tagging any of the three would have been cost prohibitive -- the tag for cornerbacks is $10.854 million, and offensive linemen is $9.828 million.
Since Welker was New England’s franchise player for 2012, franchising him again would cost 120 percent of his salary from last year. At $9.515 million for ‘12, the number for Welker for ‘13 would be $11.42 million.
The Patriots now have to decide whether to sign the three free agents, or let them go.
There is optimism that Welker and Talib will return, with Welker having the best chance. Don’t be surprised if Welker signs a contract extension, which Brady probably vouched for with his new deal, in short order before free agency. The Patriots don’t want him going to an AFC rival (Dolphins, Broncos, Texans) and pushing that team over the top, while the Patriots are left scrambling with unknown quantities.
The Patriots are one of several NFL teams discussing the possibility of using the transition tag this year instead of the franchise tag. The transition tag is cheaper, but instead of receiving two first-round picks in return for another team signing a franchise player, a team only gets right of refusal and no compensation with the transition. Talib could be in line for that. It would save the team $1.729 million against what they would have spent with the franchise tag.
New England has used the franchise tag eight times.
The next date on the NFL calendar is March 12, when contracts expire at 4 p.m. and free agency officially begins.